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Earlier this week, Tom Verducci wrote passionately about the need to outlaw home-plate collisions, which somehow remains a legal play despite being, in Verducci’s words, “the most reckless, unnecessary play in baseball.”
Late Thursday night we were reminded that there’s another baseball happenstance -- perpetuated by precedent, though certainly not by the rules -- that should be done away with. Fighting doesn’t belong in baseball under any circumstances, and incidents like these, in which batters who have been hit by pitches charge the mound to seek retribution, can be particularly risky, as the hitter has a roughly 60-foot running headstart when charging the pitcher.
This exhibit of vigilante justice was on display in San Diego, when a fastball from the Dodgers’ Zack Greinke veered inside and hit the Padres’ Carlos Quentin on the left arm. A moment later, Quentin charged the mound, and soon both benches emptied in a brawl.
Some background: Greinke had hit Quentin with pitches on two prior occasions, on July 18, 2008, and April 8, 2009. Quentin did leave Tuesday night's game between these two teams after L.A. reliever Roland Belisario hit him with a pitch on the wrist. And Dodgers star centerfielder Matt Kemp had to duck out of the way of a high-and-tight pitch from the Padres' Jason Marquis in the first inning.
Still, it strains believability that Greinke would have purposefully been trying to hit Quentin when he did. It was the third meeting of the game between the two. Los Angeles was clinging to a thin 2-1, sixth-inning lead. It was a full-count pitch. Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis appeared to set up outside for a pitch that ended up inside.
And the outcome of the brawl? Greinke suffered a broken collarbone and will now likely miss up to two months.
Precedent suggests that Major League Baseball will levy a suspension in the range of six-to-eight games on Quentin, but Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who blasted Quentin's actions as "stupid," called for much more when talking with reporters after the game: “He shouldn't play a game until Greinke can pitch."
Whether it’s a true quid-pro-quo suspension or some other substantially steeper penalty that will serve as a true deterrent of potentially injurious behavior, something on the order of eight games is wholly inadequate for actions that put players at risk. The exact length of the suspension can and will be debated -- 20 games? More? -- but an automatic ban for charging the mound should be double or triple what it historically has been.
Similarly, there's no place in the game for further confrontation, such as what reportedly happened after the game, when Kemp confronted Quentin in a tunnel under the stadium before Padres pitcher Clayton Richard separated them.
Greinke had hit Quentin with those pitches twice before, but it’s worth noting that those were but two of 28 plate appearances the two had against one another from 2008 to ’10. Also, Quentin led the majors in getting hit by pitch the last two seasons and has averaged 19 plunkings per year. Here were the postgame explanations Quentin and Greinke gave to reporters, including mlb.com, after the game:
"It's an unfortunate situation," Quentin said. "Myself and Greinke have a history. It dates back a few years. You guys can look it up. It's documented. It could have been avoided. You can ask Zack about that. For me, I've been hit by many pitches in my career. I think you guys know that. I can tell you I've never responded in that fashion, so you guys can do your homework on that. For me, the situation is done. That's it."
"The only thing I'm going to say about the whole thing that happened there is I've never hit him on purpose," Greinke said. "I never thought of hitting him on purpose. He always seems to think that I'm hitting him on purpose, but, I mean, that's not the case. "I actually thought it was just a ploy to get people to not throw inside to him. I just feel like he's trying to intimidate people to throw away. But I don't know anyone who has hit him on purpose. I know I haven't. Like I said, I hadn't even thought about hitting him on purpose before."
The exact extent of Greinke’s absence is not known -- he’ll see the Dodgers’ team physician on Friday -- and it’s true that L.A. is uniquely equipped to handle his absence, given their surplus of starting pitchers. Even after trading Aaron Harang last week, the Dodgers can shift Chris Capuano, who made 33 starts with a 3.72 ERA, from the bullpen into the rotation. Ted Lilly is on the disabled list now but could return in time to help out, too.
Still, the Dodgers will now be without their $147 million man for a long time, making it all the more difficult for them to keep pace with the Giants and Diamondbacks in the NL West and depriving their fans of an opportunity to see one of the game’s best pitchers. And for what?